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Joseph Campbell

One of my favorite minds is that of the late Joseph Campbell.  I’ve been reading him a bit lately in an attempt to quiet my mind, as I find his writings have a hypnotic quality.  While I think he got it wrong quite a lot, his ideas were fascinating.  His catch phrase was, “Follow your bliss.”  Campbell explored the nature and history of mythology and the role it plays in the human psyche.  Myth, or religion if you prefer, is often regarded as a primitive thing, unnecessary in today’s world, almost laughable under the microscope of science, and maybe even damaging to the all-consuming notion of progress.  As a romantic, Campbell went so far as to declare myth as necessary and science as mythic.  I dearly love science, but it is difficult to find meaning and fulfillment exclusively in science.  Any sort of attempt to derive meaning from it automatically puts an almost mythical spin on it, or at least a plainly subjective one.  Which gets me to thinking….

It’s a fascinating thought that in the not too distant future, much of what we regard as concrete science today will be rebutted.  History has a funny way of getting science wrong.  Ah, but we think we are immune because now have technology and we apply the scientific method…but even a cursory glance over the history of anatomy, medicine, biology, astronomy, etc. demonstrates that science is continually rewritten, and a backward glimpse into history shows how saturated these fields were with their then-contemporary social ideologies.  Today, a look at the news shows that scientific studies are in a constant cycle of being confirmed and refuted.  Much of the knowledge we can timidly count on being ceaselessly accurate is actually mathematically rooted, and mathematics is very different from science in that it doesn’t really change.  Sure, we still make new mathematical discoveries, but old formulas always stick around.  It’s a far purer field than science.  I love the idea that science reveals our shortcomings as much as our advances.  It shows how really human we are, that we’re constantly evolving, even though it’s rarely in linear fashion.

 Campbell wrote, “With our old mythologically founded taboos  unsettled by our own modern sciences, there is everywhere in the civilized world a rapidly rising incidence of vice and crime, mental disorders, suicides and dope addictions, shattered homes, impudent children, violence, murder, and despair”…his point being that the role of myth is indespensable to humankind because it gives meaning and quality to life, and we’ve lost sight of it a little.  Myth is broad enough that it can embrace art, ceremony, literature, wisdom, dreams, fantasy, poetry, philosophy, and the other things that are the real meat to life.  It lets us know that we are all part of the same human race occupying the same planet, and maybe our differences aren’t so great.  At least, that’s what I get from it.  We’re all in this together.

“Each knight entered the forest at a point he had chosen, where it was darkest and there was no way or path.”  Campbell said this in reference to the legend of King Arthur.  The knights found their way through the forest by questing, which he said is how we all ought to live, making the most of our unique gifts rather than following a path already carved out by others before us.  Follow your bliss…interesting conception.

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